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Syracuse vs. Louisville preview: Five things to watch

Will the third time be the charm for Syracuse in Louisville?

NCAA Football: Boston College at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange football team is coming off a well-deserved bye week. Now, can the Orange come out strong against the Louisville Cardinals and secure the sixth win needed for bowl eligibility? Or is Lamar Jackson Day going to power our nemesis to yet another win over ‘Cuse in Louisville?

Before things kick off at high noon on Saturday, what should we be keeping an eye on? The TNIAAM staff weighs in.

Kevin: Control possession

The Orange have found the key to explosive plays on offense but those plays have masked the continued inefficiency on that side of the ball. Even if Malik Cunningham is less than 100% it would be smart for Syracuse to keep him standing on the Cardinals sideline watching the action. We know we’ll see plenty of runs but avoiding negative plays and staying away from 3rd and long will be the key. If Syracuse can keep the Louisville defense off-balance and wear down the Cardinals they could secure a crucial win.

John: Striking the right balance for Garrett Shrader throwing the ball

Obviously Syracuse’s bread and butter is running the ball, and they shouldn’t stray too far from that. But the Orange could also use some balance here and there — especially against a team ranked 116th in the country against the pass and lacking its top defensive back in Kei’Trel Clark. So expect Shrader to test this Cardinals secondary here and there to stop them from stacking the box against the run. Ideally we don’t want to see 37 passes like he threw against Clemson. But 25 wouldn’t be a bad number if he’s hitting 50-55% of his throws.

Christian: Look yourself in the mirror

What do I mean by this? The stats show that both teams... are actually pretty similar. Syracuse and Louisville are in the top three in rushing in the ACC, while both teams are in the top five in rush defense in the conference. The difference is in the passing, but not by much. Louisville is a mid-tier passing team, but only averages about 70 yards more in the air and only has two more receiving touchdowns than Syracuse. It should be easy enough for Syracuse to game plan against the Cardinals - given that both teams heavily rely on the run and are at best okay in the passing game.

Steve: Stay in their own headspace.

There’s a lot of pomp and circumstance around this one down in Kentucky. The Louisville faithful are honoring Lamar Jackson with his jersey retirement. The Orange, on the road, in a winnable, but not favored game need to play within themselves, and not let that get to them. It’s coach speak, but controlling the controllables is the name of this one. Stick within their bread and butter run game, stay confident and open the field up with some passes that are within the ability of Shrader to throw. Without Kei’Trel Clark, that should be a little easier, but not a slam dunk.

Andy: Don’t let Malik Cunningham Beat You Two Ways

In Cunningham’s last 5 games, 3 have seen him throw for over 200 yards. In the games where he’s been held to under that mark, he has rushed for over 130 yards. There’s almost no way to completely bottle him up, but in that five game stretch, the Cards are just 1-4. Forcing Louisville to be one dimensional is the best way to minimize the damage Cunningham can inflict, and Tony White has shown us he can do it before. (Hi Malik Willis!) The Orange defense is going to need to get stops in order to win this game, and the best way to do it is make Cunningham commit to one way of playing, and accept the small defeats for the larger victory.